×

Film Review: ‘Touch Me Not’

This nonlinear exploration of intimacy seeks to challenge notions of beauty while opening viewers up to a range of sexual pleasures.

Director:
Adina Pintilie
With:
Laura Benson, Tómas Lemarquis, Christian Bayerlein, Grit Uhlemann, Adina Pintilie, Hanna Hofmann, Seani Love, Irmena Chichikova, Rainer Steffen, Georgi Naldzhiev, Dirk Lange, Annett Sawallisch. (English, German dialogue)

2 hours 2 minutes

Official Site: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt4949112/reference

If anyone is shocked by “Touch Me Not,” they’re not getting the point. In her long-gestating first feature, Adina Pintilie uses bodies of all types to explore the boundaries of intimacy and challenge notions of beauty, which clearly wouldn’t be possible without a significant display of naked flesh. Whether she’s achieved that goal, however, will very much depend on the individual, as “Touch” is a divisive film that aims to address more issues than it can persuasively handle. Seamlessly blending fiction with reality, Pintilie invents a story about an Englishwoman grappling with intimacy issues and weaves in real people guiding her toward being comfortable with her body and the bodies of others.

At its core, the film surprisingly succeeds in nudging audiences to reassess what is and isn’t attractive, but that’s because the personality of Christian Bayerlein, a man crippled with spinal muscular atrophy, brings the viewer beyond how we perceive beauty, allowing us not simply to overlook his deformity but to recognize physical elements that are empirically pleasing. The problem is that Pintilie wants us to make that leap even with people who are all surface, thereby failing to recognize the way character tempers perception. While undoubtedly brave, especially considering how the director puts herself in the film in a clear case of cinema as therapy, “Touch” will be a hard sell.

Pintilie’s background in experimental film is apparent from the way she plays with space and sound, using a nonlinear narrative to build her case. Adina (the director) is making a video essay about intimacy and uses Laura (Laura Benson), a woman in her 50s, as a sort of muse. Unable to allow herself physical pleasure, Laura hires a hustler who she watches as he showers and masturbates, but she’s incapable of joining him, reduced to sniffing the bedding after he’s left. She decides to engage transsexual sex worker-cum-therapist Hanna (Hanna Hoffman) who uses Brahms — and her own body — as a therapeutic route toward client satisfaction. Hanna’s sessions are more feminine and cerebral, whereas those with sex worker Seani Love take more physical form; he employs tactile stimulation, including punching, as a way of breaking down Laura’s resistance.

Interspersed with such scenes are those in a touch-yoga workshop, where Tómas (Tómas Lemarquis, “Noi Albinoi”) is paired with Christian (Bayerlein) and told to use his fingers to explore the disabled man’s face in order to “see his soul.” Both men have what would generically be called deformities: Tómas is completely hairless from alopecia universalis, and Christian, in addition to twisted limbs, has a malformed jaw, his top teeth jut out and he’s unable to control his drooling. Notwithstanding all this, he has a hyper-sexual relationship with his wife Grit (Grit Uhlemann).

Christian is the film’s heart, and when he discusses the parts of his body he likes, viewers look into his big blue eyes and see the beauty therein. In a similar way, Hanna’s warm confidence transcends her doughy figure: She becomes a compelling character not because she’s removed her clothes, but because she uses wit and humor (otherwise lacking in the film) to break down preconceived concepts of attraction. The same can’t be said for the denizens of the sex club Tómas enters (this ain’t no “Shortbus”), where people engage in various forms of kink that, without a connection to personality, look both unappealing and ridiculous.

Pintilie fumbles by grouping too many things together, as if intimacy and comfort with one’s body and those of others lead to practices on the far end of the sexual spectrum. Had she spent a bit of time with the woman whose bondage games look and sound rather painful, we might conclude that being tied up is actually a form of liberation, but without the intervention of personality, kink is merely performance, not intimacy. Perhaps the most serious flaw here is that almost everyone apart from Hanna is the sum of their physical rather than intellectual selves — they have no interiority outside of their naval-gazing.

Scenes of Laura’s stern-looking mute father in a hospital bed offer clues to her problems with being touched. But that’s simplified psychoanalysis, just as Christian saying the world is more complex than just good and bad is rather facile. Some viewers will be wont to make comparisons with Ulrich Seidl’s films, or Lars von Trier’s “Nymphomaniac” (Benson does have a Charlotte Gainsbourg vibe), yet Pintilie is the opposite of a misanthrope — she’s genuinely invested in opening the mind to the body’s sensations. Keeping it all balanced is where she gets bogged down.

Formally, the film uses bold constructs that blur the lines between fiction and nonfiction. Adina’s interviews with Laura transcend spatial possibility, and the fourth wall is continually broken by glimpses of camera equipment, or moments such as those when Christian looks at the camera, saying, “I think we have an audience.” Handsomely textured lensing accents stark whites that act as neutral, otherworldly backgrounds, making faces even more important. Audio tracks are occasionally deliberately off-synch, and a cacophony of noises periodically assaults the ears. An extended strobe sequence is quite unnecessary.

Popular on Variety

Film Review: 'Touch Me Not'

Reviewed at Berlin Film Festival (competing), Feb. 21, 2018. Running time: 122 MIN.

Production: (Romania-Germany-Czech Republic-Bulgaria-France) A Manekino Film presentation of a Manekino Film, Rohfilm Prods., Pink, AgitProp, Les Films de l’Étranger production, with the participation of HBO Romania, Romanian Television Society. (International sales: Doc & Film Intl., Paris.) Producers: Bianca Oana, Philippe Avril, Adina Pintilie. Co-producers: Benny Drechsel, Radovan Síbrt, Alžbĕta Karásková, Martichka Bozhilova.

Crew: Director, writer, editor: Adina Pintilie. Camera (color): George Chiper-Lillemark. Music: Ivo Paunov.

With: Laura Benson, Tómas Lemarquis, Christian Bayerlein, Grit Uhlemann, Adina Pintilie, Hanna Hofmann, Seani Love, Irmena Chichikova, Rainer Steffen, Georgi Naldzhiev, Dirk Lange, Annett Sawallisch. (English, German dialogue)

More Film

  • Bosnia's Canton Sarajevo to Launch Film

    Bosnia's Canton Sarajevo to Launch Film and TV Rebate Incentive

    Bosnia and Herzegovina’s Canton of Sarajevo is introducing a new €1 million ($1.1 million) film funding initiative next year aimed at promoting domestic and international film and television production in the region. The incentive is the first of its kind in the country. Government representatives of Sarajevo Canton, including Prime Minister Edin Forto and culture [...]

  • Antlers Trailer

    Guillermo Del Toro's 'Antlers' Starring Keri Russell Drops Chilling First Trailer

    Events take a dark turn for a small town school teacher, played by “The Americans'” Keri Russell, in the first teaser trailer for horror movie “Antlers,” produced by Guillermo del Toro. The footage, unveiled Tuesday, centers on a young boy (Jeremy T. Thomas) reading from a frightening short story he’s written as Russell listens. The [...]

  • Why Hollywood Should Tone Down Violence

    Why It's Time for Hollywood to Reconsider the Amount of Violence on Screen (Column)

    To put it mildly, we live in scary, intolerant, violent times. Since a lone gunman walked into Sandy Hook Elementary School on Dec. 14, 2012, and killed 20 children, six adults and himself, there have been at least 2,187 mass shootings across America, resulting in the deaths of some 2,461 people and wounding more than [...]

  • James Bond Spectre

    James Bond Movie Title Revealed

    The latest James Bond adventure finally has a title. The 25th entry in the action spy series will be named “No Time to Die.” In the upcoming movie, Bond (Daniel Craig) has left active service and is enjoying a tranquil life in Jamaica. His peace is short-lived when his old friend Felix Leiter from the CIA [...]

  • IFC Midnight Buys Brighton Sharbino Survival

    IFC Midnight Buys Survival Thriller 'Radioflash' (EXCLUSIVE)

    IFC Midnight has acquired U.S. rights to “Radioflash,” a survival thriller starring Dominic Monaghan and Brighton Sharbino, Variety has learned. The company will release the movie on Nov. 15. The film imagines a dystopian future, one in which an electric-magnetic pulse strikes America, knocking out all the power and pushing the country into the Dark [...]

  • Lee-Daniels-headshot

    Lee Daniels Entertainment Announces Diverse Creative Workshop

    Lee Daniels Entertainment and the online entertainment network Represent by OMV have launched a diversity-focused creative workshop to promote a diverse group of new writers. The workshop will be held from Sept. 25-28 in Los Angeles, with travel provided by American Airlines. Industry professionals will mentor aspiring creatives from underrepresented communities with workshops, meetings with [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content